The Relationship Between Fertility and National Income

We all heard that “demography is destiny”. But how many of us truly believe it? If demography was destiny, the world would look very different today. The two demographic giants China and India would be uncontested economic and military powers. The United States would be a regional power struggling to keep up. Larger European nations such as Britain, France and Germany would barely register on the economic map, while smaller ones such as Switzerland and Finland would be invisible. Nigeria and DR Congo would be African powerhouses. Brazil, Indonesia and the Philippines would be the shining stars of their continents. Read more

Rise of the Rest: A Vision Deferred

Changing demographics and the commodities crash have slowed down the development of poorer countries.

Perhaps it all started with a turn in China’s demographics. Demand growth for commodities has declined sharply from recent years and has resulted in a crash of global prices. Copper is down 54% from its post 2008 peak and down 25% this year alone. Crude oil is down 67% and 39% in the same time spans. In addition to softer demand, prices were negatively impacted by jumps in supply, most notably from shale energy producers in the United States. Read more

Why Is Brazil the New America? Hint: Water

Brazil is the world’s superpower of water, writes JAMES DALE DAVIDSON in the CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR:

If you would like to get a firsthand peek at the bright future of Brazil, but you don’t have $7,500 for a business-class fare to Rio de Janeiro, you can learn almost as much, while having less fun, by making your way to Henry County, Ill., just east of Moline.

Drive around and take a good look at the worst drought in half a century. Remind yourself as you look at the desiccated fields that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) predicted a record corn crop for 2012.

It didn’t turn out that way. Current best estimates are that the U.S. corn crop will fall by one-sixth. As a consequence, the price of corn has risen by 60 percent to an all-time high. Meanwhile, this year’s corn crop in Brazil is up 27 percent year-over-year. Brazil’s farmers are growing rich as American farmers go broke.  READ MORE.

Book Review: ‘World Population Policies’ Offers Sweeping Overview of a Complex Field


 With much attention in the international family planning community directed to the impending anniversary of the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development and the closing date of the Millennium Development Goals, the fact that 2012 is the 60th anniversary of two other milestones in population programming may have escaped notice. In 1952, the International Planned Parenthood Federation was created, and India became the first country to formulate a national policy to reduce population growth.

These and many other landmarks are highlighted in World Population Policies: Their Origin, Evolution and Impact, a new book by demographer John May that reviews several decades of policies, advocacy, and program interventions addressing the full range of diverse demographic trends seen globally.

May, who spent more than two decades working on population issues at the World Bank and other international institutions before recently assuming a fellowship at the Center for Global Development, is well-positioned to provide such an ambitious overview. Although the breadth of material included in the book means that some topics receive less coverage than a specialist might wish, it serves as a sound introduction to this diverse field, and offers some particularly interesting case studies. READ MORE.

Bjørn Lomborg: Environmental Alarmism, Then and Now


The Club of Rome’s Problem — and Ours.

Forty years ago, humanity was warned: by chasing ever-greater economic growth, it was sentencing itself to catastrophe. The Club of Rome, a blue-ribbon multinational collection of business leaders, scholars, and government officials brought together by the Italian tycoon Aurelio Peccei, made the case in a slim 1972 volume called The Limits to Growth. Based on forecasts from an intricate series of computer models developed by professors at MIT, the book caused a sensation and captured the zeitgeist of the era: the belief that mankind’s escalating wants were on a collision course with the world’s finite resources and that the crash would be coming soon.

The Limits to Growth was neither the first nor the last publication to claim that the end was nigh due to the disease of modern development, but in many ways, it was the most successful. Although mostly forgotten these days, in its own time, it was a mass phenomenon, selling 12 million copies in more than 30 languages and being dubbed “one of the most important documents of our age” by The New York Times. And even though it proved to be phenomenally wrong-headed, it helped set the terms of debate on crucial issues of economic, social, and particularly environmental policy, with malign effects that remain embedded in public consciousness four decades later. It is not too great an exaggeration to say that this one book helped send the world down a path of worrying obsessively about misguided remedies for minor problems while ignoring much greater concerns and sensible ways of dealing with them. READ MORE.

Royal Society: ‘People and the Planet’ Report

The Royal Society, the UK’s 350-year old academy of science, issued a report today calling for ‘a more equitable future for humanity’. The 134-page People and the Planet report highlights the rapid growth of the world population and its resulting pressures on natural resources and the environment.  It makes the nine following recommendations:

Recommendation 1: The international community must bring the1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.

Recommendation 2: The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.

Recommendation 3: Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.

Recommendation 4: Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Recommendation 5: Governments should realise the potential of urbanisation to reduce material consumption and environmental impact through efficiency measures. The well planned provision of water supply, waste disposal, power and other services will avoid slum conditions and increase the welfare of inhabitants.

Recommendation 6: In order to meet previously agreed goals for universal education, policy makers in countries with low school attendance need to work with international funders and organisations, such as UNESCO, UNFPA, UNICEF, IMF, World Bank and Education for All. Financial and non-financial barriers must be overcome to achieve high-quality primary and secondary education for all the world’s young, ensuring equal opportunities for girls and boys.

Recommendation 7: Natural and social scientists need to increase their research efforts on the interactions between consumption, demographic change and environmental impact. They have a unique and vital role in developing a fuller picture of the problems, the uncertainties found in all such analyses, the efficacy of potential solutions, and providing an open, trusted source of information for policy makers and the public.

Recommendation 8: National Governments should accelerate the development of comprehensive wealth measures. This should include reforms to the system of national accounts, and improvement in natural asset accounting.

Recommendation 9: Collaboration between National Governments is needed to develop socio-economic systems and institutions that are not dependent on continued material consumption growth. This will inform the development and implementation of policies that allow both people and the planet to flourish.